Skip to Content

What are the 3 properties of color paint?

Paint comes in a vast array of colors, but every color paint shares three key properties that determine its appearance and performance: hue, chroma, and value. Understanding these core attributes is essential for both paint manufacturers in developing new paints and consumers in selecting the right paint for their project. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the three properties of color in detail and how they combine to create any paint color.

Paint transforms the look and feel of a room. The right color scheme can create an energizing, soothing, or dramatic effect. When browsing the paint aisle, the variety of color options can seem infinite. Yet every single color paint gets its unique appearance from just three characteristics:

  • Hue – The pigment or dominant wavelength that classifies it as red, blue, green, etc.
  • Chroma – The intensity or saturation of the hue
  • Value – The lightness or darkness of the color

Understanding these three properties helps unlock the science behind how paint colors work. With this knowledge, you gain the power to deliberately tweak these attributes to create custom paint colors tailored to your vision.

In the sections below, we will dig into the essence of each of the three properties of color paint and how paint experts use them to develop stunning new paint options.


Hue refers to a color’s position on the visible spectrum. The visible color spectrum consists of wavelengths of light that range from short violet wavelengths to long red wavelengths:

Wavelength Color
380-450 nm Violet
450-485 nm Blue
485-500 nm Cyan
500-560 nm Green
560-580 nm Yellow
580-650 nm Orange
650-780 nm Red

The dominant wavelength for a color determines its classification as red, blue, green, etc. This dominant wavelength is called the hue.

Some examples of common paint color hues include:

  • Red – Dominant wavelengths around 650 nm
  • Orange – Dominant wavelengths around 610 nm
  • Yellow – Dominant wavelengths around 580 nm
  • Green – Dominant wavelengths around 510 nm
  • Blue – Dominant wavelengths around 470 nm
  • Violet – Dominant wavelengths around 410 nm

Hue is often described with color wheel models that arrange the spectrum into neat slices. But in reality, hue encompasses a wide continuum of wavelengths with subtle gradations between the major color bands. Two paint colors may have very similar but not identical dominant hues, creating subtly different aesthetic effects.

Hue gives a color its essential character. Dramatic shifts in hue have a major impact on the paint’s look. Adjacent hues like red and orange have a harmonious relationship, while opposite hues like red and green create striking contrast effects.


Chroma, also called saturation or intensity, refers to the purity and strength of a paint color’s hue. A hue can express itself vividly and intensely, or it can be muted and diluted with grayness. Chroma describes where a color paint falls along this spectrum.

Paints with high chroma appear rich, vivid, and deeply saturated. As chroma decreases, colors start to appear more subdued, faded, and gray. At the lowest chroma levels, a paint takes on a near neutral gray or brown tone, barely revealing the original hue.

What causes lower chroma? Essentially, the mixing in of white, gray, or the color’s complement. Here are some examples:

  • Adding white to a bright red yields pink – a less saturated form of red
  • Mixing a pure yellow with gray produces a dull, muddied yellow
  • Combining a vivid orange with blue, its complement, neutralizes it into a more subdued beige

Conversely, removing grayness and complement colors increases a paint’s chroma for maximum hue expression.

Paint manufacturers alter chroma by carefully controlling pigment ratios and mixing complements. Paints that use higher concentrations of pure pigment naturally achieve more intense chroma levels.


Value indicates the lightness or darkness of a color. It provides vital contrast within a paint palette, seperating colors visually.

Two paints may share a similar hue and chroma, but value sets their appearence apart. For example, a light sky blue differentiated from a deeper navy blue solely by lightness.

Value is directly tied to how much black or white pigment a paint contains:

  • More white added = higher value, lighter color
  • More black added = lower value, darker color

Here are some examples of how value distinguishes paint colors:

High Value Low Value
Pastel pink Deep burgundy
Light lime green Dark forest green
Buttercream Chocolate brown

Color value has a big effect on perceived room brightness and paint aesthetics. Dark, low value colors can create cozy, intimate spaces. Light, high value colors make rooms feel airy and spacious. Combining lights and darks provides necessary contrast for walls, trim, and accents.

Interplay of the Three Properties

Now that we’ve defined hue, chroma, and value, how do they interact in any given paint color?

Let’s analyze a paint sample. Say we have a sky blue paint chip. We can break down its color DNA:

  • Hue: Blue (dominant wavelength around 480 nm)
  • Chroma: Medium saturation, not strongly vivid or grayed out
  • Value: Light, with significant white added

This paint gets its essential “blueness” from hue. Its medium chroma level allows the blue to read clearly without overpowering intensity. Value keeps it light and airy.

Hue, chroma, and value also work together to define relationships between paint colors. Here are some examples:

  • Tints of the same hue – Share an identical dominant wavelength, but tints have higher value from added white
  • Shades of the same hue – Share an identical dominant wavelength, but shades have lower value from added black
  • Tones of the same hue – Share an identical dominant wavelength, but tones have lower chroma/saturation from added gray

Understanding these color interactions allows for the systematic manipulation of paint properties during manufacturing to achieve desired effects.

Paint Color Mixing Fundamentals

Now that we have broken down the science behind paint’s color properties, how does this knowledge inform real-world paint color mixing and matching? Here are some key lessons:

Lesson 1: Adjust hue in a paint by adding more of its primary pigment, or by adding pigments from adjacent hues on the color wheel. For example, shift sky blue paint toward a pure cyan by adding more cyan pigment. Warm up the blue by incorporating yellow pigments.

Lesson 2: Boost chroma/saturation by adding more of a color’s primary pigment. Remove grayness by adding complementary colors. Just take care not to over-neutralize the paint.

Lesson 3: Lighten value by adding white pigment. Darken value by adding black pigment. Or deepen a color by mixing in complementary hues.

Lesson 4: The most vibrant paint colors occur with high chroma/saturation and mid-range value levels. Overly light or dark paints mute intensity. For clean, bright colors, stay mid-value.

Lesson 5: Mixing paints follows different color theory laws than light color mixing. Combining paint colors gives non-intuitive results. Learning proper techniques requires practice.

These lessons provide a powerful analytical framework. However, color perception gets complicated. Our eyes adapt to lighting conditions, altering paint appearances. Test samples extensively before finalizing formulations. There are also psychological and cultural factors around color preferences to consider. Analyze market trends to create paint colors in popular, appealing hues.


Whether you’re developing new paints or selecting colors for a home design project, keep hue, chroma, and value at the forefront. Experiment with manipulating these three fundamental properties to create paint colors that precisely match your vision and needs. The next time you view a gallery of paint swatches, think about each one as a unique combination of dominant wavelength, saturation, and lightness worked out by skilled paint chemists and color designers. Understanding paint’s core color attributes gives you the power to tailor paint to your creative goals.